It is quite alright to blink twice after reading the scoreline. It is not often that either of Chelsea or Manchester United are to be found at the wrong end of such a mauling, and even less often if both are involved. Yet a little over fourteen years ago, Gianluca Vialli’s boys put in arguably Chelsea’s best ever performance against any Manchester United side. The fact that this was largely the same Manchester United side, barring great Dane Peter Schmeichel, that had won THE famous treble in the previous season and were on a 29-match unbeaten run in the league, only makes it even more special and memorable for the Blues faithful.
A memorable season it was indeed for Chelsea Football Club. Having finished 3rd in the Premier League the previous season, this was the first time that the club had qualified for the Champions League. The European run was to feature a memorable 3-1 victory over Barcelona, often remembered as one of the greatest nights at Stamford Bridge. Exertions across borders, though, eventually exacted their toll and Chelsea finished only 5th that year, also making it to the Quarter finals in Europe. Manchester United recovered and recovered well, a hallmark of Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides down the years. There must have been quite a few hair-dryer treatments that day, but it all worked out well when they lifted the Premier League trophy at the end of the season.
Chelsea 5-0 Manchester United
3rd October, 1999
Manchester United were top of the table with 21 points after nine games, while Chelsea after an uncertain start were 7th. The visitors were also buoyed by another important statistic of not having lost against the hosts in nine previous meetings.
The game got off to an absolutely sensational start when Gus Poyet put Chelsea ahead just after 27 seconds. Though in fairness, the Uruguayan had a fair bit of help from Taibi, who ran off his line and collided with Dennis Irwin thereby allowing Poyet to head in the ball from Petrescu’s cross. Manchester United tried getting a hold of the game after the early setback, but Chelsea had scented blood, and scored a second through Chris Sutton at sixteen minutes. A near replica of the first, only this time Taibi could not have done much. This goal was also to prove Sutton’s only one for that season.
Manchester United fans could not have been blamed for wondering if there was anything worse than being 2-0 down in an opponent’s den. Nicky Butt came up with the answer in the 23rd minute. Chelsea captain Dennis Wise brought down Butt with a sloppy tackle, resulting in the latter losing his temper and aiming a kick at the former, with the referee right behind. The players clashed before Butt was duly sent off, and United were 2-0 and a man down now. Stamford Bridge was in full voice, even as the rain lashed down.
Sir Alex might have hoped for better fortunes in the second half, but Poyet all but sealed Chelsea’s victory with his second goal of the game. A well-worked freekick allowed Chelsea’s number 8 a simple tap-in and took Manchester United out of the game. Man advantage only added to Chelsea’s control over the game and with the midfield worked in tandem, Chelsea added a fourth. A flowing move saw Zola passing the ball into the box, right across the net, and defender Henning berg turning the ball into his own net.
Four goals weren’t enough and Chelsea kept attacking and Petrescu almost scored with an obnoxious lob from the right wing, which was tipped over by Taibi. And then 10 minutes from time the Manchester United defence was ripped apart again when Graeme Le Saux played in fellow substitute Jody Morris. A rasping shot between Taibi’s added icing over a fine cake indeed. Chelsea were up by 5 goals to nil over Manchester United.
The rains eventually subsided, but Sir Alex still looked thunderous. The mastermind of this stunning victory, ‘Luca’ Vialli was still concentrating over something, but the Chelsea faithful had time only for celebrations. And Stamford Bridge was reverberating with fancy taunts of :
What’s it like to be outclassed?